About 100 villagers from Boeng Chhouk village in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district blocked officials and workers on Tuesday from bringing in heavy machinery to begin work on a road expansion that would destroy some of their homes.
Tuesday was the first attempt authorities have made to begin work since the November deadline set by City Hall for the more than 600 residents of Tuol Sangke commune’s Boeng Chhouk village to vacate the area.
On February 23, City Hall for the second time issued a letter, signed by district governor Thuy Sokhan, warning the villagers that any homes standing in the way of the expansion after 15 days would be destroyed.
Authorities did not attempt to make good on their threats until about 8 a.m. Tuesday, when a convoy of five sand-laden dump trucks, a bulldozer and about 50 police, military police and security guards arrived at the village.
After one of the trucks emptied its load and a bulldozer began pushing the sand into a lake behind the villagers’ houses, locals surrounded the bulldozer, forcing it to back off.
The villagers then blocked a field, preventing the remaining four trucks from entering the work area.
Mao Pov, 47, said that if the authorities are allowed to go through with their planned expansion, the home she has lived in since 1996 would be destroyed.
“I am not preventing the government from developing that area, I just want the authorities to give us compensation before they do it,” Ms. Pov said.
Nim Vannak, a 35-year-old resident, was more defiant.
“I will not go anywhere because this is my house. This is my land,” Mr. Vannak said.
The standoff ended at around noon when officials asked the villagers to come to City Hall.
“No solution was reached this afternoon,” Mr. Vannak said by telephone. “City Hall officials just told us to bring any documents involved with our land and they will consider what to do next.”
Say Kosal, Tuol Sangke commune chief, said the city wants to expand the road in order to connect streets 598 and 1800. He added that the expansion would affect only five or six homes in the village.
“We need to expand that road by 20 meters. Following the plan, this road could become the main road, because it connects to the nearby Borei Angkor,” Mr. Kosal said, referring to a housing complex.
He added that local authorities needed to measure the land before any compensation could be discussed, but he did not know when that might happen.
Chea Pisey, deputy Russei Keo district governor, who commanded the police and workers on Tuesday, said the road expansion would benefit everyone.
“I open this road not for the sake of my parents, but for all the people,” Mr. Pisey told angry villagers surrounding him Tuesday morning during the standoff.